EPA Halts Heightened Monitoring of Fukushima Fallout

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EPA Halts Heightened Monitoring of Fukushima Fallout

No New Milk, Rain or Drinking Water Sampling for another Three Months

Washington, DC — Although the Japanese nuclear reactor disaster is still unfolding with no end in sight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cut its radiation monitoring back to pre-tsunami levels, according to a statement posted on the agency website last week.  As a result, stepped-up testing of precipitation, drinking water and milk has ended, with EPA saying that the next round of sampling “will take place in approximately three months.”

In its May 3, 2011 statement, the agency contends that detected radiation levels have “been very low, are well below any level of public health concern, and continue to decrease over time” so it will return to routine, quarterly sampling.  Today Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) questioned EPA’s radiation monitoring relaxation, citing –

  • The 50-year old RadNet monitoring network has wide geographic gaps and many inoperable monitors.  EPA reversed plans to place deployable monitors to fill gaps up and down the West Coast. EPA is also considering withdrawing the few added monitors it had placed in Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Saipan;
  • Elevated levels of Iodine-131, Cesium-134, Cesium-137, and Strontium-90, radionuclides emitted from the Fukushima nuclear complex, are showing up in milk.  In the case of the I-131, the levels exceed EPA’s permissible limits for drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act (EPA has no separate standards for milk.)  There is no safe or non-harmful level of radiation for human consumption; and
  • Radioactive iodine levels in rainwater have been found, and continue to be found, significantly exceeding the EPA’s own Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 3piC/L for drinking water.  EPA downplays the public health risk by noting that the “MCL for iodine-131 was calculated based on long-term chronic exposures over the course of a lifetime 70 years. The levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration.”

“With the Japanese nuclear situation still out of control and expected to continue that way for months, and with elevated radioactivity continuing to show up in the U.S., it is inexplicable that EPA would shut down its Fukushima radiation monitoring effort,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting radiation readings in seawater off the Japanese coast at depths of up to 100 feet are 1,000 times normal levels.

At the same time, EPA continues to review a plan to dramatically increase permissible radioactive levels in drinking water and soil following “radiological incidents,” such as nuclear power-plant accidents. The proposed radiation guides (called Protective Action Guides or PAGs) allow long-term cleanup standards thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever before accepted, permitting doses to the public that EPA itself estimates would cause a cancer in as much as every fourth person exposed.

“This is the worst possible time for EPA to roll back radiological protections for Americans,” added Ruch, pointing out that the EPA PAGs are favored by the nuclear industry but are vigorously opposed by public health professionals inside EPA.  “The lesson from Fukushima should not be that we just have to learn to live with high levels of industrial radioactive pollution.”

Documents PEER obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that EPA made a decision to approve the PAGs months ago but has yet to make an official announcement.  Last fall the agency hired contractors to prepare a Communications Plan for it.  Sources tell PEER that EPA is ready to send the PAGs over to the White House Office of Management & Budget for approval prior to publication in the Federal Register.

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